Hope is Not Hope Which Cannot A Midterm Election Withstand

Shakespeare wrote:

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove

and I think it’s worth thinking about that in terms of hope, too.  If we are able to give up hope based on one, historically not-surprising or shocking or even very note-worthy election?  Then we didn’t have hope to begin with.

One of the things about our system is that it’s responsive, and a lot of people were hurting this cycle.  This election is a response to that, it’s not a mandate for either party or a repudiation of anything — no matter how much the spin machine tries to make it either thing, it’s just not.  People are frustrated and scared and out of work or underemployed all over the place.  We are just now maybe pushing our noses up above water, in large part due to the decisions made by the 111th Congress and our President.  But they inherited a financial juggernaut of awful, and the reality of that is this: people are hurting, and people who are hurting are not their best selves and do not vote their ideals, they vote their fears.  And this Midterm election shows that people are hurting, are angry, and that the Radical Right has marshaled its forces to capitalize on that anger and fear.  Particularly the state-level results that are most troubling (I’m looking at the Midwestern M’s — Minnesota and Missouri), these are results about fear.

On a side-note, I have to point out what seems so obvious: Obama is not Roosevelt so let’s stop making the comparison.  Roosevelt came from the white, ruling class so when he pushed on bankers that hard?  He was doing so from a position of privilege … Obama’s playing on a different field and we cannot forget that when we’re analyzing his strategy.

I get that the elections this past Tuesday were disappointing to folks who fought in 2008 to elect Obama.  We lost one of the two races I spent the past two months on, and to which I dedicated 18 hour days and have not had a single day off in the last three weeks.  I get the disappointment, really I do.  But I remember that in 2008 we knocked doors and showed up and called our friends and asked our neighbors to vote and elected a President that wasn’t supposed to win.  And then the maelstrom hit and we entered the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Obama and the 111th Congress inherited that mess, and they *still* got more done than any Congress in recent history.  They made choices in their priorities and policy goals, choices that — I believe — kept us from an even worse collapse, and choices that were about long-term good of the many.  And that President did not participate in the outright lying that the Radical Right used against him, I believe, because he truly gets that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.  Glenn Beck’s tools of constant spin and policy-as-soundbyte?  I don’t want that.  I don’t want a President who is focused on the PR, I want one who’s focused on the policy.  And we have that in Obama.

In spite of that, so many of us on the Leftish/Left/Center of the political spectrum — the very folks who said we wanted smart, wanted wonky, weren’t looking for sit-com president — feel disappointed because Obama was not able to do everything exactly as we wanted right this second, or didn’t spin hard enough fast enough to suit us.  We seem to forget that the only kind of government with the kind of power we ascribe to Obama is dictatorial (at least), and we forget that we *want* power to be checked because our guy is NOT always going to be in the seat.  We want a president who tries to work and play well with others.  Even though the Right was a massive bloc of no, Obama’s approach was one that reached for compromise and also got the thing done.  That’s huge.  We knew that he was a centrist in 2008 when we elected him but we had so much hope, so much excitement, that I think we forgot that part of the bargain we struck was that in order to push left, we had to show up  even when it was hard and not full of cool posters and will.i.am’s Yes We Can video.

We (and by we I mean those of us who see ourselves as Progressive, Left of Center, or Center of Center politically speaking) have spent an incredible amount of time and energy criticizing every move made by the Administration in the last 21 months.  Healthcare wasn’t good enough ‘cause it wasn’t single-payer; Wall Street reform wasn’t enough because we needed even more regulation; LGBT/Q folks weren’t getting enough with more LGBT/Q appointees than any other administration and a stated opposition to DADT and DOMA ‘cause they weren’t undone by Presidential fiat.  All these critiques are valid, and there are more I could offer.  But here’s the thing: we did not spend an equal amount of time and energy recognizing what was accomplished under this President and Congress.  And we did not effectively get out our vote.  We didn’t get out there and talk to people, face to face and one-on-one, about why voting in this election cycle mattered.

The Tea Party is scary to me.  The entire “Constitutional Conservative" mask for folks who want to undo the Civil Rights Act and Social Security, freaks me the eff out.  The willingness of Fox News to make shit up, baldly and boldfaced lie in their ‘reporting’ as a way to push a Right-wing agenda?  It hurts my heart, but mostly because I want there to be a higher standard of reporting than that which allows airtime (by elected folks!) nattering on about how Obama’s trip to India costs $200 million a day.

I am saddened by the total closed-circuit Right Wing media world (tip o’ the keyboard to Rachel Maddow), but more so because there are people who believe it because all they hear is that closed-circuit.  We have to stop talking only to folks who agree with us.  We have to figure out how to have a rational conversation with people we don’t agree with (I don’t mean people carrying Hitler signs — paint anyone as Hitler — Bush or Obama — and I’m gonna walk away).  I think we are seeing a preview of the fake-fact, race-baiting strategy that will be used in 2012.  I think we have seen that it can be effective (which saddens me), but we also know how to win facing that machine.

We have to spend time talking to people we don’t always agree with, having conversations that are based in listening, hearing people’s issues, and debunking false facts.  We have to be likely voters.  SERIOUSLY.  We must be that if we want to have a serious impact — because the strategy of turning out surge voters from 2008 in this Midterm?  It didn’t work.  So, we must be likely voters, family.

We have to turn out our vote, allow ourselves to be excited about that which is not perfect, resist the giving-up that is anathema to actual change (the thing we hope for).  We can do that, we’ve done that, we are the people to show our country how to do that in spite of incredible odds while finding joy in the absurdity — that’s the story of our people.  And we can be prepared for 2012, friends.  We can figure out how to communicate “rational and factual” information, as Rachel Maddow says, to folks who are scared and don’t share our exact political perspective.

I have to remember: I have hope.  I believe we can.  And Michelle Bachmann and her crazy, listen-to-no-facts approach?  Can’t stop me from believing that we can make this world a better place.  Yes, this election was not a good one for our people.  But we need to remember that it was also not the end of the world.  This is a list of five things that give me hope today (admitting that there are many that sap my hope, I’m choosing to focus on these today).

1.  The election results are not a mega-news, disastrous calamity, total turnaround that the 24-hour news media would have us believe. My secret-grrlfriend, Rachel Maddow, did a great piece on this last night. The results were not historic, and this is empirically, factually proveable.  The handsome Ms. Maddow lays it out in 2 minutes 30 seconds:

2.   This essay by Gail Collins, which is just snarky enough to make me smile, but gets right to the point on the importance of not extending the tax cuts that Bush enacted:

Democrats, we know you are sad. And this next battle is going to involve parliamentary maneuvering and Harry Reid and worrying about the innermost thoughts of Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Everything that made the public turn on you in the first place.

But, this time, see if you can remember to point out that you are on a noble venture. Lift up your tails and trot out there and help balance the budget by killing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The American dream is depending on you — the one without any wrestling or yachts.

You can also watch her on my secret-grrlfriend’s show on the tee-vee here.

3.  The fact that there is an upcoming exhibition of Essex Hemphill's work, including rare and unpublished stuff, in New York all this week.  You can see the Facebook event here, or search for “Take Care of Your Blessings: Essex Hemphill/Wayson Jones Collection.”   Essex Hemphill’s poems were featured in two movies that absolutely blew me away when I first saw them, and which I was lucky enough to teach several times.  If you haven’t seen them, you should check out Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston and Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied right! now! for some happy and some hope.  And for a serious self-check.

4.  The mom who took no stuff and brooked no bullshit and not only let her son dress as he wanted for Halloween, but wrote about just how much she loved him.  She’s a cop’s wife (hardly the stereotype of a raging liberal) and she makes me have hope that the thing we’re fighting for — that our kids can grow up safe enough to figure out who they are — is changing.  Because I can tell you this, I can’t imagine this mother existing when I was growing up, and I certainly can’t imagine her stance being supported and celebrated the way I’ve seen all over them durn internets today. Picture is a link, if you have been under an internet rock and haven’t seen the blog post wherein she takes the mcnasty to task and not only defends her son, but makes it clear that her love isn’t dependent on who he might theoretically have sex with someday.  Or whether he likes wearing orange wigs.

5.  The last thing is a clip of Tony Bennett singing America the Beautiful at the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear, because I wish this were our National Anthem. But also, because I think it’s important to remember that I am an American with all that entails. I have civic duties (like voting) and historical accountability (like the continuing effects of a Nation founded on slave labor) and great joys (like being a part of a large-scale democracy that is, in all its imperfections, pretty cool). Some days I think I’d rather be Canadian (like, days I want to be able to marry my sweetie or have healthcare available) … but then I remember that Canada isn’t Utopia either (see forced assimilation of First Nation Peoples, or Toronto’s new Mayor, Rob Ford).  So, I am an American — as much so as any red-white-and-blue wearing Tea Partier, I’m a part of the fabric of this Nation.  And I am glad of that, because it means my government needs to be accountable to me and mine as much as anyone else.  I am a part of the “us” no matter how much Sarah Palin wants me to be a “them”.  And I am ready to fight for that, every day for sure, but particularly in 2012.  I’m ready, people.  And I still believe we can.

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Tony Bennett - “America the Beautiful”
Rally to Restore Sainty and/or Fear The Daily Show The Colbert Report